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Tung Chee-Hwa A Shoo-In For Chief Executive Election

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

12 December 2001

More than 120 members of Hong Kong's 796-strong electoral college last night attended a seminar to demonstrate their support for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, who is expected to declare on Thursday that he will run again for a second term when his current period in office expires.

The seminar at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the first major gathering in support of Mr Tung's re-election, came ahead of the reception tomorrow at the same venue at which Mr Tung is expected to declare his candidacy for the March 24 election. Speakers said the absolute trust of the Beijing Government in the SAR's leader was vital for Hong Kong, pointing to the fact that no credible candidate has so far offered themselves against Mr Tung.

The 'election committee' as the college is known comprises members of industrial, commercial and professional groups, representatives of religious groups, the 60 members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) and its delegates to China's National People's Congress. Chinese medicine contributes 20 members to the election committee, while finance and financial services see somewhat under-represented with 24 members.

The system is criticised by many as being undemocratic: of the 60 ex officio members of Legco only 24 are elected on the basis of universal suffrage, so that just 24 out of 796 votes in the chief executive's election represent the electorate. But speakers at the seminar said the system fully complies with the Basic Law (which governs the relationship of Hong Kong to Beijing).

Election Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu, a speaker, said it was wrong to suggest the chief executive would not be able to represent the community if he were not returned by "one man, one vote". "People who keep saying this do not understand 'one country, two systems'. The chief executive will only be able to implement his policies at ease if he is trusted by the central authorities. It would be wrong to say any candidate put forward by Hong Kong will necessarily be accepted by Beijing," said Ms Tam, who is also a deputy of the National People's Congress.

Mr Tung is Beijing's clear choice as the next Chief Executive and is thus a near-certainty to win given that the election committee is packed with tycoons and business leaders eager to do Beijing's bidding, but he is leaving nothing to chance. Media reports say Mr Tung's soon-to-be announced campaign team might have as many as 200 members.

So far interest in the election has centred mostly on when it is to take place. The government originally chose March 28th, a Sunday, because on its own admission that choosing the more usual Thursday might interfere with "members playing golf or participating in other activities". After protests by legislators and others the date was shifted to March 24.

It's as well for Mr Tung that he doesn't have to face the electorate: recent polls have shown that he would be supported by barely a third of registered voters.

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